From nonprofit service to barista to developer/vocalist: Janeen’s story
Janeen graduated from our Web Development Immersive program in March 2019. An accomplished vocalist with a variety of educational and career experiences, she was looking for a path that would provide financial stability but allow her to keep a flexible schedule. After teaching herself a bit of programming, Janeen found that path - and today, she's a professional full-stack developer. Read more about how she made the switch.
What is your educational and career background?
I'm from Illinois outside of Chicago. I received a Bachelor's in Sociology at Wheaton College in Illinois, which I loved but had no idea what to do with it. So, when I graduated from college, I moved down to South Carolina for a position with AmeriCorps.
I completed my service year, and then stuck around for a couple of months because I fell in love with Spartanburg and upstate South Carolina. Eventually, I moved back to Chicago and worked as a part-time admin at an art and media college while also working as a barista. With time, I got promoted to full-time manager of the department. As I looked at my future there, I saw possible promotions that would mean less time working with students and more time in administration and program management. The idea of working in those fields did not interest me.
In both nonprofit and education, I struggled with the fact that progressing in my career would probably mean moving into roles that would not be of interest to me. I wanted to grow, have better hours, make more money, etc., but not at the cost of moving away from the parts of the jobs that I enjoyed. I realized that I was unsatisfied with my career path. I also missed the musical community I had built in South Carolina (I wasn't playing much in Chicago). Not to mention, I disliked winter and missed mountains. So without a complete plan, I moved back.
I accepted a job at a coffee roaster, Little River Roasting in Spartanburg, which I loved. But again, I saw my options for career advancement, and I realized that the chances of building a lifelong career that I could support myself with were slim. I turned 29, and my instability kind of hit me. I asked myself, “What do I need to do to find a career that I can stick with, grow in, and support myself within the next year?”
How did you land on going to code school?
Ultimately, I wanted a career where I could keep growing, keep learning, receive promotions, but continue to do the work that I enjoy. That's what drew me to programming and the tech industry. Also, my family is all spread out across the country, so I was looking for something that would offer me enough money to travel and see them.
My first exposure to programming was a friend in Chicago who loved it and encouraged me to check it out. I did, but it was while I was working full time. In the evening, I was trying to teach myself this thing that I had no context for whatsoever. It was just challenging to motivate myself.
I realized that I couldn't try to learn a new skill and change my career path on the side. I needed to stop what I was doing and focus 100% on coding. I had been thinking about it for a couple of years but didn't feel like I was at a point where I wanted to shift gears yet.
Eventually, I got to a point where I was reevaluating my current job, and I wanted to make a financial shift. I wanted something that ultimately would let me invest in things I care about, invest in my time, move around, and keep a flexible schedule.
I landed a scholarship to the code school that helped me out. I also saved up enough and got a loan that I knew I could payback for the cost of living while I was in school.
How did your concept of what you thought it was going to be like compared to the reality of going to code school?
I understood that it would be difficult. But I don't think I realized just how emotionally demanding it was going to be. The workload was heavy, but the biggest struggle for me was having to continually come in with a sense of humility and acknowledge the fact that I didn't know everything.
The instructors created an environment where there wasn't a ridiculous question, and you could not get it and be ok. The constant failure and constant new material were, I think, more emotionally taxing than I expected it to be. Also, it prepared me for my work environment, where I’m not as intimidated as I might have been in the past by challenges that I’m not sure how to solve. Now I can say, “Hey if you point me in the right direction, I'll grind and figure it out.”
One thing that you and I have talked about is this interesting thread of musicians going into coding. Tell me a little bit about what you think kind of helps you get into coding because of some of your mindset as a musician.
I've always been creative, and I think I assumed that office jobs or jobs that require sitting behind a computer wouldn’t feel fulfilling. But one thing that I've realized is that coding actually kind of mirrors songwriting, they both use this combination of rules and creativity.
Studying music theory was fascinating for me because you learn the rules of chord structure, key signatures, and time signatures. Then within those structures, you can create cool things. To write an interesting chord progression, you have to know which notes are in the key. For the most part, you have to stick to the rules, and from there you can create something really cool and beautiful. I like something to guide me in my creativity. That is something I love about music, and it's something I love about programming too. There is a set of rules, and you have to learn it. It's a language. There are certain things you can and can't do. Then within that structure, and within those rules, there are all sorts of ways to be creative. I mean, literally creating things that haven't been made before or creatively fixing things. It's a lot more artistic than I realized a couple of years ago when I first started looking into it.
I think programming and writing music can work well together. Those lifestyles can kind of support each other and complement each other too.
What advice do you have for anyone considering Carolina Code School?
You have to be willing to come in every day and say, "I'm struggling with this. I don't get that. I need help." There are points where you won’t know if you can do it. Then you come back the next day and do it anyway.
I will say in my experience; the pace has gotten a lot lighter since graduating. But, I’m only able to keep up with the demands of my job and feel that way because of how intense the program was. I would advise students not to do anything else while you're in school. I played a couple of shows, but even that was a lot. So, just put yourself in a position to be able to devote all of your time to do this. Be prepared to separate your self-worth from your success from day-to-day. You're going to fail at times, but you're still a worthwhile person, and you're still making progress. Just keep showing up every day and keep doing it.
What are you doing now?
I completed a programming apprenticeship right after code school, where I worked on new product development for software that safely allows advertisers to market to new audiences using Google’s Ads API. Today, I’m working as a freelance full-stack developer, and I have a variety of clients.